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Evolution of the Sector
China's retail sector offers great opportunities for food product exporters. In 2021, total retail sales of consumer goods in China reached 44,082.3 billion yuan, up by 12.5% over the previous year with an average two-year growth of 3.9%. In December 2021 the retail sales of consumer goods in urban areas was 3.52 trillion yuan (532 bn USD). However, there still are many challenges in selling foreign food products in the retail sector. Demand for imported food and beverage is expected to remain resilient, as consumers  perceive imported products to be safe and of high quality. The major drivers of China's retail growth include rapid urbanisation and an increase in the number of middle class consumers. China's consumers expect their food purchases to be easy and convenient. As a result, electronic commerce (e-Commerce) has become an important tool for businesses in the retail sector to use and to adapt to in order to reach their customers.

Many different business models within the retail industry have emerged recently. Small convenience stores and specialty stores remain the most common retail model. In recent years, however, large retailers are increasing market share as they are able to realise greater efficiencies through better supply chains and wider distribution channels. Furthermore, the industry has undergone many mergers and acquisitions (M&A) which has strengthened the large retailers' position in the market.

Traditional retailers are transitioning to include online components to their business. The era of traditional standalone retail stores is being phased out in China. Offline food retailers include hypermarkets, supermarkets, specialty stores, discount stores, community stores and convenience stores. Online food retailers, who supply food products online and deliver the items to the consumer, are the fastest-growing sector recording record-breaking figures.
In 2021, retail sales of supermarkets increased by 6%, department shops by 11.7% and specialist shops by 12% compared to the previous year. However, the upward trend in China's online retail sales can easily be seen by looking at the 2021 turnover, which reached 198.7 billion USD), an increase of 24.6% over the previous year.

High quality and premium priced food products, including imported food and beverage will remain in demand in the market, although there are some difficulties: high import tariffs, regulations and expensive shipping costs. As a result of globalisation and development, China's younger populations have become accustomed to imported food products being available at retail stores in major cities.
Market share
Mass distribution in China is dominated by large Asian groups, with Chinese distributors taking the most significant market share. According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, the top ten national retailers’ combined sales reached over $88.4 billion in 2019.

Gaoxin Retail semi-annual report for the 2022 fiscal year stated a revenue of 41.534 billion yuan or 6.22 billion USD  (as of September 30, 2021) down 5.0% year-on-year, and net profit of 112 million yuan, down 87.6% year-on-year. CR Vanguard and Lianhua own more than 3,000 shops and have an average turnover of $13.6 billion and $7.8 billion, respectively. Yonghui, is also a major player in China. Among these leading retailers, there are two internationally recognized brands, Walmart and Carrefour. In 2021, Walmart's sales reached 11.43 billion USD.
Convenience stores are widespread and their numbers are increasing in response to a growing number of consumers who are looking to save time and money. The leading chain in terms of outlets is YiJie with more than 27,000. The only international convenience store is 7 eleven.
Moreover, there are five major e-commerce players: Tmall.com is considered the largest, followed by JD.com, VIP.com, Pinduoduo and Suning.

Retail Sector Organisations
China Chain Store and Franchise Association

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Actualitzacions: October 2022

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